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About this poet

Geoffrey Chaucer was born in London sometime between 1340 and 1344 to John Chaucer and Agnes Copton. John Chaucer was an affluent wine merchant and deputy to the king's butler. Through his father's connections, Geoffrey held several positions early in his life, serving as a noblewoman's page, a courtier, a diplomat, a civil servant, and a collector of scrap metal. His early life and education were not strictly documented although it can be surmised from his works that he could read French, Latin, and Italian.

In 1359, Chaucer joined the English army's invasion of France during the Hundred Years' War and was taken prisoner; King Edward III of England paid his ransom in 1360. In 1366, Chaucer married Philipa de Roet, who was a lady-in-waiting to Edward III's wife. In 1367, Chaucer was given a life pension by the king, and began traveling abroad on diplomatic missions. During trips to Italy in 1372 and 1378, he discovered the works of Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch—each of which greatly influenced Chaucer's own literary endeavors.

Chaucer's early work is heavily influenced by love poetry of the French tradition, including the Romaunt of the Rose (c. 1370) and Saint Cecilia (c. 1373), later used as the "Second Nun's Tale" in the Canterbury Tales.

Chaucer was named Controller of Customs on wools, skins, and hides for the port of London in 1374, and continued in this post for twelve years. Around that time, Chaucer's period of Italian influence began, which includes transitional works such as Anelida and Arcite (c. 1379), Parlement of Foules (c. 1382), and Troilus and Criseyde (c. 1385). Chaucer established residence in Kent, where he was elected a justice of the peace and a member of Parliament in 1386. His wife died the following year.

His period of artistic maturity is considered to begin at this time, marked by the writing of the General Prologue of the Canterbury Tales, which Chaucer continued to work on for many years—most likely until his death in 1400. Considered a cultural touchstone, if not the very wellspring of literature in the English language, Chaucer's tales gather twenty-nine archetypes of late-medieval English society and present them with insight and humor.

Now considered the "Father of English literature," Chaucer wrote in the English vernacular while court poetry was still being written in Anglo-Norman or Latin. The decasyllabic couplet Chaucer used for most of the Canterbury Tales later evolved into the heroic couplet, commonly used for epic and narrative poetry in English. Chaucer is also credited with pioneering the regular use of iambic pentameter.

As the American poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his essay "The Poet" in 1844: "...the rich poets, such as Homer, Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Raphael, have obviously no limits to their works, except the limits of their lifetime, and resemble a mirror carried through the street, ready to render an image of every created thing."

Until less than a year before his death, Chaucer remained Clerk of Works of the Palace of Westminster. He leased a tenement in the garden of the Lady Chapel of Westminster Abbey. After his death, he was buried at the entrance to the chapel of St. Benedict, in the South Transept. In 1556, a monument was erected in Chaucer's honor. When the Elizabethan poet Edmund Spenser died in 1599 and was buried nearby, the tradition of the "Poets' Corner" in the Abbey began. Since then, more than thirty poets and writers are buried there—including Browning, {C}Dryden, Hardy, Jonson, and Kipling—and more than fifty others are memorialized.

Chaucer died on October 25, 1400.


Selected Bibliography
 

The Canterbury Tales
Troilus and Criseyde
Treatise on the Astrolabe
The Legend of Good Women
Parlement of Foules
Anelida and Arcite
The House of Fame
The Book of the Duchess
Roman de la Rose
Translation of Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy (as Boece)

An ABC (The Prayer of Our Lady)

Geoffrey Chaucer, 1343 - 1400
Incipit carmen secundum ordinem litterarum alphabeti.


Almighty and al merciable queene,
To whom that al this world fleeth for socour,
To have relees of sinne, of sorwe, and teene,
Glorious virgine, of alle floures flour,
To thee I flee, confounded in errour.
Help and releeve, thou mighti debonayre,
Have mercy on my perilous langour.
Venquisshed me hath my cruel adversaire.

Bountee so fix hath in thin herte his tente
That wel I wot thou wolt my socour bee;
Thou canst not warne him that with good entente
Axeth thin helpe, thin herte is ay so free.
Thou art largesse of pleyn felicitee,
Haven of refut, of quiete, and of reste.
Loo, how that theeves sevene chasen mee.
Help, lady bright, er that my ship tobreste.

Comfort is noon but in yow, ladi deere;
For loo, my sinne and my confusioun,
Which oughten not in thi presence appeere,
Han take on me a greevous accioun
Of verrey right and desperacioun;
And as hi right thei mighten wel susteene
That I were wurthi my dampnacioun,
Nere merci of you, blisful hevene queene.

Dowte is ther noon, thou queen of misericorde,
That thou n'art cause of grace and merci heere;
God vouched sauf thurgh thee with us to accorde.
For certes, Crystes blisful mooder deere,
Were now the bowe bent in swich maneere
As it was first of justice and of ire,
The rightful God nolde of no mercy heere;
But thurgh thee han we grace as we desire.

Evere hath myn hope of refut been in thee,
For heer-biforn ful ofte in many a wyse
Hast thou to misericorde receyved me.
But merci, ladi, at the grete assyse
Whan we shule come bifore the hye justyse.
So litel fruit shal thanne in me be founde
That, but thou er that day correcte me,
Of verrey right my werk wol me confounde.

Fleeinge, I flee for socour to thi tente
Me for to hide from tempeste ful of dreede,
Biseeching yow that ye you not absente
Thouh I be wikke. O, help yit at this neede!
Al have I ben a beste in wil and deede,
Yit, ladi, thou me clothe with thi grace.
Thin enemy and myn-- ladi, tak heede--
Unto my deth in poynt is me to chace!

Glorious mayde and mooder, which that nevere
Were bitter, neither in erthe nor in see,
But ful of swetnesse and of merci evere,
Help that my Fader be not wroth with me.
Spek thou, for I ne dar not him ysee,
So have I doon in erthe, allas the while,
That certes, but if thou my socour bee,
To stink eterne he wole my gost exile.

He vouched sauf, tel him, as was his wille,
Bicome a man, to have oure alliaunce,
And with his precious blood he wrot the bille
Upon the crois as general acquitaunce
To every penitent in ful creaunce;
And therfore, ladi bright, thou for us praye.
Thanne shalt thou bothe stinte al his grevaunce,
And make oure foo to failen of his praye.

I wot it wel, thou wolt ben oure socour,
Thou art so ful of bowntee, in certeyn,
For whan a soule falleth in errour
Thi pitee goth and haleth him ayein.
Thanne makest thou his pees with his sovereyn
And bringest him out of the crooked strete.
Whoso thee loveth, he shal not love in veyn,
That shal he fynde as he the lyf shal lete.

Kalenderes enlumyned ben thei
That in this world ben lighted with thi name,
And whoso goth to yow the righte wey,
Him thar not drede in soule to be lame.
Now, queen of comfort, sith thou art that same
To whom I seeche for my medicyne,
Lat not my foo no more my wounde entame;
Myn hele into thin hand al I resygne.

Ladi, thi sorwe kan I not portreye
Under the cros, ne his greevous penaunce;
But for youre bothes peynes I yow preye,
Lat not oure alder foo make his bobaunce
That he hath in his lystes of mischaunce
Convict that ye bothe have bought so deere.
As I seide erst, thou ground of oure substaunce,
Continue on us thi pitous eyen cleere!

Moises, that saugh the bush with flawmes rede
Brenninge, of which ther never a stikke brende,
Was signe of thin unwemmed maidenhede.
Thou art the bush on which ther gan descende
The Holi Gost, the which that Moyses wende
Had ben a-fyr, and this was in figure.
Now, ladi, from the fyr thou us defende
Which that in helle eternalli shal dure.

Noble princesse, that nevere haddest peere,
Certes if any comfort in us bee,
That cometh of thee, thou Cristes mooder deere.
We han noon oother melodye or glee
Us to rejoyse in oure adversitee,
Ne advocat noon that wole and dar so preye
For us, and that for litel hire as yee
That helpen for an Ave-Marie or tweye.

O verrey light of eyen that ben blynde,
O verrey lust of labour and distresse,
O tresoreere of bountee to mankynde,
Thee whom God ches to mooder for humblesse!
From his ancille he made the maistresse
Of hevene and erthe, oure bille up for to beede.
This world awaiteth evere on thi goodnesse
For thou ne failest nevere wight at neede.

Purpos I have sum time for to enquere
Wherfore and whi the Holi Gost thee soughte
Whan Gabrielles vois cam to thin ere.
He not to werre us swich a wonder wroughte,
But for to save us that he sithen boughte.
Thanne needeth us no wepen us for to save,
But oonly ther we dide not, as us oughte,
Doo penitence, and merci axe and have.

Queen of comfort, yit whan I me bithinke
That I agilt have bothe him and thee,
And that my soule is worthi for to sinke,
Allas, I caityf, whider may I flee?
Who shal unto thi Sone my mene bee?
Who, but thiself, that art of pitee welle?
Thou hast more reuthe on oure adversitee
Than in this world might any tonge telle.

Redresse me, mooder, and me chastise,
For certeynly my Faderes chastisinge,
That dar I nouht abiden in no wise,
So hidous is his rightful rekenynge.
Mooder, of whom oure merci gan to springe,
Beth ye my juge and eek my soules leche;
For evere in you is pitee haboundinge
To ech that wole of pitee you biseeche.

Soth is that God ne granteth no pitee
Withoute thee; for God of his goodnesse
Foryiveth noon, but it like unto thee.
He hath thee maked vicaire and maistresse
Of al this world, and eek governouresse
Of hevene, and he represseth his justise
After thi wil; and therfore in witnesse
He hath thee corowned in so rial wise.

Temple devout, ther God hath his woninge,
Fro which these misbileeved deprived been,
To you my soule penitent I bringe.
Receyve me-- I can no ferther fleen.
With thornes venymous, O hevene queen,
For which the eerthe acursed was ful yore,
I am so wounded, as ye may wel seen,
That I am lost almost, it smert so sore.

Virgine, that art so noble of apparaile,
And ledest us into the hye tour
Of Paradys, thou me wisse and counsaile
How I may have thi grace and thi socour,
All have I ben in filthe and in errour.
Ladi, unto that court thou me ajourne
That cleped is thi bench, O freshe flour,
Ther as that merci evere shal sojourne.

Xristus, thi sone, that in this world alighte
Upon the cros to suffre his passioun,
And eek that Longius his herte pighte
And made his herte blood to renne adoun,
And al was this for my salvacioun;
And I to him am fals and eek unkynde,
And yit he wole not my dampnacioun--
This thanke I yow, socour of al mankynde!

Ysaac was figure of his deth, certeyn,
That so fer forth his fader wolde obeye
That him ne roughte nothing to be slayn;
Right soo thi Sone list as a lamb to deye.
Now, ladi ful of merci, I yow preye,
Sith he his merci mesured so large,
Be ye not skant, for alle we singe and seye
That ye ben from vengeaunce ay oure targe.

Zacharie yow clepeth the open welle
To wasshe sinful soule out of his gilt.
Therfore this lessoun oughte I wel to telle,
That, nere thi tender herte, we were spilt.
Now, ladi bryghte, sith thou canst and wilt
Ben to the seed of Adam merciable,
Bring us to that palais that is bilt
To penitentes that ben to merci able. Amen.

This poem is in the public domain.

Geoffrey Chaucer

Geoffrey Chaucer

Geoffrey Chaucer was born in London sometime between 1340 and 1344 to

by this poet

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O Yonge fresshe folkes, he or she,
In which that love up groweth with your age,
Repeyreth hoom from worldly vanitee,
And of your herte up-casteth the visage
To thilke god that after his image
Yow made, and thinketh al nis but a fayre
This world, that passeth sone as floures fayre.

And loveth him, the which that
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A Triple Roundel


I. Captivity

Your yën two wol sle me sodenly,
I may the beaute of hem not sustene,
So woundeth hit through-out my herte kene.

And but your word wol helen hastily
My hertes wounde, whyl that hit is grene,
     Your yën two wol sle me sodenly; 
     may the beaute of hem not sustene
poem
     But now, sire,—lat me se—what I shal seyn?
A ha! by God, I have my tale ageyn.
     Whan that my fourthe housbonde was on beere,
I weep algate, and made sory cheere,
As wyves mooten, for it is usage,
And with my coverchief covered my visage;
But for that I was purveyed of a make,
I wepte but smal, and that